10 Best Books About The Circus Update 05/2022

Books About The Circus

The trick. The tawdry beauty. The delicate balance between what is real and what isn’t, between a beautiful show and its dark underside. And the wonder, too. It’s not surprising that novelists have been drawn to the circus since it first came to town. Charles Dickens, for example, wrote about the circus in Hard Times and The Old Curiosity Shop. “Dear, dear, what a place it looked, that Astley’s; with all the paint, gilding, and looking-glass.”

As a setting, the circus is a great place to look at power and control. After all, the job of a showman is to misrepresent, to make up crazy stories, and to keep a crowd in awe of them. When I started writing Circus of Wonders, it quickly turned into a book about telling stories and taking ideas from other people. When the Victorian circus and “freak show” were in full swing, showmanship was at an all-time high, and new inventions made it easy for people to become famous quickly. Even Queen Victoria became known as “the freak-fancier.”

People often ask: who has the pen? Because the circus is all about making things look real and telling stories, it was perfect for this question. Who’s voice is heard and who’s isn’t? What are we willing to do to make people laugh or smile? In all of these books and collections, the author’s hand never falters, cutting through the dazzling trickery of showmanship with often devastating effect, and they are all works of art.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Oh, what a book! Carter called it “psychedelic Dickens,” and the whole book is a treat for the eyes and ears. So many metaphors and double meanings are used, as well as sharp and sleazy quips, that the reader almost feels sick. While these are the things I like best about Carter’s writing, I also like how it played with the difference between reality and illusion. When Sophie Fevvers, a cockney aerialist, was born, she was in an egg. She is now a young woman. Then, is she? Jack Walser, a journalist, is a clever addition to the story. He is very strict about reporting and facts, and he wants to pin Fevvers down. Fevvers, on the other hand, is not bound by convention and enjoys taking up space. She talks for a long time, fills the room with her scent, laughter, and gestures, and exuberantly plays with the lines between fairytales and real life. In fact, this is the only book about the circus and about living.

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell

This fiery poetry collection looks at showmanship, the so-called “freak industry,” fairytales, and spectacle. In fact, it doesn’t try to unpick these things as much as smash them to pieces and make them new, which is what it does. Girls with beetle eyes are on display in a girl aquarium, mermaids are held behind glass, a Bear Lady and a Skeleton Man drink beer, and there are a lot of other people there. How it challenges the idea that girls’ bodies can only be used to find out about themselves and be exploited. How it combines science with a fantastical circus. It is strong, bold, and brilliant. As the last poem says, “Smash this circus to the ground.”

Beneath the Big Top: A Social History of the Circus in Britain by Steve Ward

This short history is full of interviews, eyewitness accounts, and facts that even the most imaginative novelist couldn’t top. Even the most imaginative author couldn’t top them. When Henry Kraul’s pet lion killed him, Ward tells us about the showman who had his head torn off by the animal. He also talks about George Wombwell’s tigress who killed a young boy, a woman, and a baby when she escaped.

Josser: The Secret Life of a Circus Girl by Nell Stroud

Josser The Secret Life of a Circus Girl by Nell Stroud

“The circus has a spell on some people.” When I saw it, I was so overwhelmed that I could not keep up. The circus took over everything and left no space for anything else. What could I do? In the years after she left Oxford, Stroud joined a traveling circus. This is something many people want to do, but don’t want to do. With great tenderness and spirit, she wrote a memoir about being part of a performing group. I was able to understand what it was like to be excited, dirty, tired, and part of a group. She went on to help start the Giffords Circus, which was a big hit with more than a million people and toured the world. It amazed me how unique her life was and how much she did in it, which made her death in 2019 even more poignant.

The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age by John Woolf

Many people don’t know how big and successful the “freak industry” was in mid-Victorian Britain, and how unusual, tragic, and beautiful the lives of the people who worked in it were at the same time. This social history by John Woolf is amazing. It tells the stories of some of its most famous people, like conjoined “Siamese” twins Chang and Eng Bunker, a former slave who was exploited by PT Barnum, and little person Charles Stratton, who met Queen Victoria in the first chapter. He does not hide from criticizing the exploitative nature of the industry – a world that can both give and take freedom. Woolf does not hide from criticizing the exploitative nature of the industry.

The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine

Is there a trick? There isn’t one. You eat fire by putting fire in your mouth. In her memoir, Fontaine talks about how she learned to be an escape artist, a fire-eater, and a snake charmer. In this way, she looks at the darker side of the circus and how to deal with it. For example, she talks about her struggle to ignore fear and danger and take part in death-defying stunts. Like Josser, it’s a fascinating look at what it’s like to work in a circus, and how the performers come together, are weird, and tell stories.

Patient by Bettina Judd

Patient by Bettina Judd

Joice. In this case, Sarah Baartman, Betsey Harris, and Sarah Baartman. Black women have been exploited and abused through history. Their bodies have been used as places of curiosity or science, and Bettina Judd uses them as a focus for her poetry collection. Like many stories about showmanship, this collection looks at how the voices of the performers or the patients have been lost or overwritten. It imagines their voices in conversation with a modern speaker.

The Circus 1870s-1950s

Photos, posters, lithographs, banners for sideshows, engravings, and more are all in this book, which is not a book of stories. A library copy of the book had so many beautiful images inside that I had to buy my own copy. Sequined girls smoking on circus wagons and Frank A Robbins firing a woman from the cannon were just some of the things in the book. It shows the grit and glamour of the circus through the work of photographers like Frederick Whitman Glasier, Edward Kelty, and Cornell Capa, who were all part of the circus world. What would it have been like to turn each page?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book takes the magic and mystery of the circus and turns it into a fantasy, where magic is real and showmen can do dark things. The Cirque des Rêves is full of imaginative delights, like cloud mazes and gardens made of ice. But the novel looks at the darker, more controlling side of the show when two magicians (and their pawns) fight.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski quits college and joins the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This book is set in the United States during the Great Depression. Jacob and Marlena, an equestrian star, fall in love in the book. August, the circus’s animal trainer, is a threat, and Jacob loves Rosie, an elephant who performs at the circus.

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